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Archive for the tag “stories”

Blue Line Black Men: I am not afraid

There were black men yelling on the Market Frankford El today.  We all got on the train at the same time, but separately, at 69th Street, the end/beginning of the line.  The first guy, who sat across the aisle from me, was on his cell phone.

“Did you hear about the Sixers?… They tradin’ Hawes!… That’s a bad move, man!”

Other guys pile into the car, in uniforms and work boots, bundled in puffer coats or in hoodies covering their heads.  They take empty seats or stand near the poles at the double doors, some of them with their friends and in their own conversations.  But the man on the phone is loud and the other passengers are forced to eavesdrop.  A murmur begins among the strangers.

“Naw, that’s good!”

“That’s a good move for the Sixers, dawg!”

“That’s what they need!”

The man on the phone hangs up with the caller as the train begins to leave the station.  Before hitting the button to close the call, he is responding to the other passengers. The men all become passionate about the subject. There are hand gestures and scrunched up faces, “naw dawg’s” and “C’mon man’s.” The oldhead tucked in the corner of the car offers up a comment and they all pause to hear him before they all chime in at once again.

The train stops at Millbourne, 63rd and 60th Streets, gaining and losing passengers, both pushing traffic through the loud, good-natured discussion.  It’s all gibberish to me. I know nothing about the 76er’s and could care less about basketball.  But I enjoyed being caught up in that moment with them—black men yelling, unafraid for those moments, interacting with each other, passionate about a thing.

I am used to black men yelling: my father is a Pentecostal preacher, my grandfather was a bit of a pimp, my brothers get pretty riled up when telling stories, my Uncle Joe sits on my grandmother’s couch quoting Farrakhan from behind an open Final Call.  I am not intimidated.  I am not shaken. I am not moved.  As a matter of fact, I feel right at home when it gets loud and rowdy—whether it’s on a Septa train, in a family room back home, or when walking past a neighborhood basketball court.

More importantly, though, I am used to black men.

I am reminded of this when I enter the classroom of Philadelphia FIGHT each week to teach my writing workshop, “Making Each Word Matter.”  When collaborating with FIGHT’s Institute for Community Justice and their weekly creative writing class, I am in a classroom with black men, 20-30 of them, ages ranging from early 20’s to late 60’s, all of them armed with pens and paper, spilling ink and creativity.  And I tell you, it is only here, in this room full of black men, first loud with their ideas, then quietly writing their words, then patiently waiting to share what they’ve written while patiently listening to others… it is here in this room, full of stagnant stale air, yet vibrant with fresh art, that I become afraid.

I am afraid that no one will hear their stories or know their worth.  No one will hear the rhyme, the rhythm, the cadence of their poetry.  No one will hear the questions, the answers, and the brilliance of their tales.

I am afraid that whether black men are yelling on the El or yelling on the page, the only ones who will listen are those of us who are not intimidated, shaken, or moved—those of us who are used to black men yelling. Or more importantly, used to black men.

The others, too busy blinded by the darkness and deafened by the noise, will continue to keep black men silenced and make up their own stories.

And I am afraid that that will not be enough.

It’s raining sunshine

I am soaked down to the bone

My skin is my proof

—- John Tolbert, haiku from “Making Each Word Matter”

Building Character(s): A Call for Personal Stories

I am working on my very first novel, which has been both daunting and exciting.  I am also simultaneously finishing a couple of short stories and writing speeches– it is a very busy time.

However, in comparison to the short stories, which are primarily memoir pieces, the novel requires so much more time and energy and RESEARCH. When writing essays and creative nonfiction, which has been my focus since undergrad, I am telling stories from my own memories and experiences– what I’ve seen and felt and conquered, if you will. But when creating fictional characters and scenes, some of which are complexly different from me and what I’ve experienced, I am learning that I may need to go beyond beautiful language and pictorial settings to get at the heart of my characters. Instead, I must actually meet these people, live their lives, hear their stories, and watch them work– that is, if I desire a well-rounded, well-written body of work.

That said, I am looking to meet people and hear some stories.  So here it is, my call for personal stories:

  • I am looking to meet young black men who are or have been members of a traditional, predominately black church and active in some form of ministry (ie. choir, praise dance, mime etc.) who are or have also struggled with sexual/gender identity and lives or have lived a double life or ultimately left the church because of it.
  • I am also looking to meet pastors or church leaders who have relatively strong views regarding same sex relationships, gay rights, and “homosexuality” as a whole.

There will be no judging or telling here– I simply want to hear your story. All correspondence will be kept confidential.

Lastly and for the record, I will not be telling your story, but rather listening and gathering information to help inform my characters’ point of view and help me create a narrative that is both realistic and relatable.  If you are interested in sharing your story or would like more information about what I am writing, please feel free to contact me at lastletterfirstword@gmail.com

Could 2014 Be My PEN-ULTIMATE Year??

I have declared 2014 my Write or Die Year.

Of course I don’t plan to physically die, but I do plan to let the dream of becoming a full-time, novel/short-story writer die if I can’t prove to myself that I can be totally committed and disciplined to write—not just regularly—but on a daily basis.

My vision board for 2014 is all about writing, submitting and applying to contests, publications, residencies and MFA programs.  I promised myself to complete two short stories that have been on my computer for over a year and begin the rigorous process of writing a novel. To be sure I stay focused, I have even sworn off Facebook for the first six months of this year (with a few exceptions).

My personal goal is 1000 words a day.  To the seasoned novelist, I am sure this goal is equivalent to a text message word count. I get it. However, what I am really aiming for is a consistent writing schedule instead of sporadic, manic writing fits where I type 3000 words in one night, but won’t fit in another writing day for two or more weeks.

Those stories are usually left untold.

In addition to signing out of my most addictive social media site, I also did a few other things to prepare for my PEN-ULTIMATE Year. Here’s a glance at my plan:

  • Taking advice from Pinar Tarhan who had a feature in the November 8th Funds for Writers newsletter (if you’re a writer and you don’t already receive this free weekly newsletter, you absolutely should subscribe!), I decided to commit to a part-time retail job for the months that I will be writing.  My job provides enough flexibility to allow me to stay up late nights to write while also being lucrative enough to pay the bills.
  • I scaled back on social time, allowing myself only certain days and times for play.  Before, I jumped at too many events without considering my work first.  This year, I intend to maintain a good balance of work and play.
  • I decided to take a break from freelancing, journalist gigs and blogging until my stories are complete.

Ten days into the year and my writing commitment and I am feeling pretty good.  However, I have decided to keep my blog going, contributing to it at least once a week. I am very excited about this endeavor and I think sharing my writing experiences—or whatever other stories I feel compelled to share— here on lastletterfirstword will also help me build brain muscle!

What are your writing goals for 2014? Could this be your Write or Die Year, too? Pens up!

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